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As the COVID-19 global health crisis continues to expand, we are in a rapidly increasing number of conversations with pastors all over the country about how to most faithfully address these unique circumstances and the challenges presented. As you might imagine, we’re sensing the growing tension between the short-term, the long-term, and how to lead imaginatively and faithfully in both. We invite you to be a part of this ongoing conversation with us via zoom (Link above).
We hope you can join us, along with Dr. Tod Bolsinger of Fuller Seminary, Rev. Kristy Farber, Pastor at Mercer Island Presbyterian Church in the Seattle area, and our MMF colleague and Pastor at Zion Spring Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, Rev. Adam Mixon.
In the short term, we are all engaged with the pastoral and congregational priority of attending to the most vulnerable, isolated, and ill in our communities. Not only will many congregations have community members suffering from COVID-19, congregations will also necessarily experience social distancing and isolation that is already at epidemic proportions in our society. Our weekly blog email to pastors last week focused on this dynamic. Further complicating matters, congregations will be full of parishioners who have lost wages and whose work schedules and lives will be radically disrupted. The social and economic impact on congregational and community life will be significant. What good word can we give to one another for the next few months? What creative approaches to ministry can we share with one other that are not simply about surviving the moment, but about encountering God’s grace in unexpected circumstances? For the short term, what will it look like to experience the joy of Christ in a time of uncertainty? Several of our cohorts across our network have already generated conversations along these lines, collaborating, sharing resources and ideas, and keeping each other accountable to leading faithfully. We’d love your input.
This brings us to the long term. This present moment speaks profoundly to the sustainability of ministry and mission in our culture for the foreseeable future. Unexpected crises bring to the surface the many challenges that we’ve tried to suppress and delay until later – not least the challenges of our economic models for ministry, how we practice social proximity between our buildings and our communities, and how we stay close to the most vulnerable with the love of Christ. Numerous congregations will cancel corporate worship and committee meetings for months. What will this do to the economics of local ministry? How are ministry leaders, amid deep uncertainty, preparing for how the culture and financial habits of their congregation will undoubtedly shift after not gathering for sustained periods of time? What’s at stake? What are the risks? The costs? What are the myriad variables in play that can help ministry leaders make decisions about these issues going forward? We’d like to continue pushing on these questions and work with you to develop creative ways forward. Yes, there is absolutely a level of crisis present that requires decisive leadership for the short term. But getting stuck for too long in the short-term can result in fulltime crisis management, which is an undue burden on pastors and paralyzing to a congregation’s ministry and mission. Rather, we’re hopeful that we can seize the moment for developing faithful, imaginative, adaptive, paradigm-shifting ministry for the long term. Let’s not squander the opportunity. Let’s keep asking the big questions and look “up and out” at what God is doing while simultaneously tending to the immediate needs that God has put before us. We’d love to know how you are navigating this tension, and how you think we all might do so more faithfully.
And then, in some sense, there is only “right now.” God’s “right now” is ever-present and all-encompassing, opening us up to broader horizons and views of what’s happening in the world, and drawing us into unanticipated places, lives, and circumstances where the Spirit is already at work in extraordinary ways. We’re convinced that the gospel of Christ offers a word of promise and hope to pastors, congregations, and communities right now, and that as we live in that promise, we’ll more intimately encounter God’s joy in even the most uncertain and challenging circumstances.
It is with deep affection for ministry leaders all over the country that we offer these words. We are continually amazed by the courage and resilience demonstrated by pastors and congregations everywhere, and if we can offer further support in any way, it will be a privilege to do so.
Deeply humbled and encouraged by all of you,